Parashat Re’eh – [Mitzvot Draw their Rewards and Repercussions with Them, Understanding the Repentance of Kayin and Adam, as Well as The Power of Shabbat Observance and How it May Lead to Our Redemption]
From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
It is stated in the Parasha, “You can therefore see that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse. The blessing [will come] if you obey the Mitzvot of Hashem your G-d, which I am prescribing to you today. The curse [will come] if you do not obey the Mitzvot of Hashem your G-d, and you go astray from the path that I am prescribing to you today, following gods of others that you did not know. When Hashem your G-d brings you to the land which you are about to occupy, you must declare the beracha on Mt. Gerizim and the curse on Mt. Ebal” (Devarim 11:26-29).
It appears that these matters contradict each other. For on the one hand its states, See that I place before you “today” and on the other hand it states that the beracha and curse should be given on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal [implying] only after entering Eretz Yisrael. If so, when did Hashem give the beracha and curse?
The explanation of this is found in the words of Chazal in the Midrash, “The loaf and staff were given wrapped together from Heaven” [Vayikra Rabba 35:6].
Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l explains that the reward of the mitzvot and the punishment of the sins were given wrapped together with the actual mitzvot and sins. For when a person performs a mitzva, immediately the reward that is relevant to it is drawn with it. In the vein that Chazal said in Gemara Shabbat (23b), “One who is careful with the mitzva of mezuza will merit a beautiful home, one who is careful with the mitzva of tzitzit will merit a beautiful garment, one who is careful with Kiddush on wine will merit to barrels of wine.” This means that immediately with the performance of each and every mitzva there is some reward in this world that is drawn with it. And this is a reward in this world and this is what is meant in the verse, which I place before you “today”.
Not so the beracha and curse that were given afterwards on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, this is the reward and punishment for the World to Come, and this is indicated with what is stated later on, “And it shall be when you come”.
There is a greater depth of understanding in this as Chazal said in the Midrash (Pesikta Eicha ch. 3), from the moment when Hashem said, “I place before you today a beracha and a curse” and it further states “From the Mouth of the One Above these evils shall not come forth” (Eicha 3:38), this means that Hashem does not bring good or bad on a person, but rather that the mitzvot do their work and the sins their work. And this is the concept that was placed “today” before them, that has no association with the berachot and curses that were said on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, but it is an independent concept, that from here onwards all the good and bad come from the power of mitzvot.
In this manner they said in the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Mishlei 959), “Wage war with strategies” (Mishlei 20:18), Rebbi Natan and Rebbi Acha said in the name of Rebbi Simon, [the Hebrew word for strategies is similar to the Hebrew word for bundles] if you performed bundles and bundles of sins then perform against them bundles and bundles of mitzvot, if you sinned with haughty eyes, then you must perform [the mitzva of tefillin] “And they shall be an emblem between your eyes” [Devarim 6:8], if you sinned with lies, you must fulfil “and you shall teach them to your children” [Devarim 11:19], if you sinned with hands that spilled innocent blood, you must fulfil the mitzvah of tefillin of the arm “and you shall bind them on your hand” [Devarim 6:8].
This is because every sin that a person does damages the limb with which he sinned and thus he causes that limb to deform, and so it is for this reason that the way to remedy this is, is for him to perform [a mitzva] with that limb that he damaged.
In the Midrash [Bereishit Rabba 22:13] when Kayin sinned and killed Hevel, he sought forgiveness from Hashem and agreed as it were and repented. When Kayin went from before Hashem he was happy, Adam asked to him, “What was the outcome of your judgement?” He replied, “I repented and came to an agreement”. Immediately Adam slapped his face and proclaimed, “This is power of repentance and I didn’t know it!” Immediately he opened up and said, “Mizmor shir leyom HaShabbat tov lehodot leHashem” (A song for the Shabbat Day, it is good to praise Hashem).
We must understand the words of the Midrash, why was Adam so distressed and from what did he find in power of Kayin’s repentance to be so inspired? And moreover, why did he sing “Mizmor shir leyom HaShabbat”?
It may be explained as follows. It is explained in the Gemara (Yoma 86b) Who is called a ba’al teshuva (a full repenter)? One who had the opportunity to sin and was saved from it. This means the very same situation that he was previously sinned, the same place, the same time, and now he refrained from sinning, such a person is a complete ba’al teshuva.
Adam, was expelled from Gan Eden, he knew that he could not return to that same place, same time and same test, and so he thought that the paths of teshuva (repentance) were closed before him.
However, when he say that Kayin settled [his sin] with Hashem and repented, he realised the depth and efficacy of teshuva, for he knew that Kayin would also not be able to experience the same test in the same place and at the same time, for he had to wonder in the land, moreover his brother Sheit – in place of Hevel – wasn’t born until 130 years, and despite this his teshuva was accepted.
This was because Hashem is gracious and has abundant forgiveness, each according to his strength and restraint, and does not allow a person to be left in his sinful state for he does not desire that the dead actually die [see Yechezkel 18:32].
And so Adam sung “Mizmor shir leyom HaShabbat tov lehodot LeHashem”. This is understood based on what Chazal said in the Midrash (Shochar Tov Tehillim 95), if only the Jewish People kept just one Shabbat they would be immediately redeemed, as is states, “Today if you listen to His voice” [Tehillim 95:7].
This appears difficult for through Shabbat observance all of the limbs aren’t utilised.
But is explained that since all of the limbs are used to observe Shabbat [namely that a person’s whole being observes Shabbat], he thereby perfects his limbs from all sins, and this is why Adam said, “Mizmor shir leyom HaShabbat tov lehodot LeHashem”, this means to sing praise before Him and to repent (As explained in the essay Adam HaRishon, Pri Tzaddik by Rebbi Tazadok HaCohen of Lublin 1823-1900, Parashat Vayelech Shabbat Shuva).